Indoor plants – mental health, air quality and productivity!

Having heard Prime Minister, Teresa May, speaking earlier this week about her plans to ‘transform’ attitudes to mental health and to provide improved support to sufferers, I was remembering that someone told me once that spider plants were great to have around, at home and in the office, as they could help lift mood and alleviate depression. We’ve all heard about the therapeutic value of gardening and I even heard on the radio recently that some enlightened GPs are actually giving suitable patients prescriptions for mental health-promoting gardening projects.

I wondered if there was any scientific evidence that supports the idea that plants are good for mental health. Certainly, when I did an internet search for ‘mental health and plants’, it threw up a long list of articles, research and advice. The general consensus seems to be that having plants in your home and in your work space can really improve negatives such as anxiety, depression and tension, whilst improving productivity and reducing fatigue.

The areas in which plants can have a positive effect on our mood and productivity are many and varied according to the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). It appears that the benefits of living and working around indoor plants have been shown to include:
– Improved mood
– A reduction in stress
– Increased productivity
– Improvements in attention span and concentration

Physical health improvements have been shown to include:
– Reductions in breathing problems
– Reductions in blood pressure levels
– Reductions in levels of fatigue and headaches

And the fact that patients in hospital rooms with plants report better pain tolerance is a bit spooky, but brilliant! There’s science to prove this; research from Kansas State University in 2008 showed that hospital patients treated in rooms where plants were situated, needed lower levels of pain killers

It appears that the plants trap and filter air pollutants in the home – kitchen products, air fresheners, faulty boilers – and at work – bacteria, dust, cleaning products, creating better air quality. Apparently just one plant per 3 employees can improve air quality in an office and can reduce CO2, dust and bacteria. I even found a study by NASA no less, saying that they’d found that plants are able to absorb and break down even quite harmful chemicals in the air through their leaves, creating a healthier indoor eco-system.

It sounds like a no-brainer! If we’re going to be happier and healthier in the home or at work if we import a few plants, let’s do it! Obviously we don’t want to live and work in a semi-forest environment, but within reason, it’s not difficult or costly to bring a bit of greenery into your life.

It seems that the visual benefits – and hopefully the health benefits too – of bringing plants inside is being recognised by retail companies and restaurants. We’ve noticed that various eateries and shops seem to have jumped on the vertical garden trend bandwagon. Here’s a fabulous wall of greenery that we spotted in west elm on London’s Tottenham Court Road.

Leigh Hunt, one of the authors of the RHS paper which discussed the benefits of bringing plants inside, said that you don’t need to surround yourself with exotic or expensive plants, ‘a spider plant is a good choice, or even common English ivy’. I can’t say I’d want ivy growing in my house – I’m in a long-running battle with ivy growing over our shed – but it was good to read that Mr Hunt has confirmed my long-held, but unsubstantiated view that the humble spider plant was thought to be a good mood-enhancing house plant to grow.

Prime Minister, Teresa May’s speech also emphasised the need to provide more help and support for young people with mental health issues. Having read about research showing that plants and greenery can help to reduce stress and blood pressure in students and young people whilst encouraging their concentration, I plan to continue with my practice of giving my children and their friends a home-grown spider plant as a ‘going off to university’ gift.

I love spider plants. Not only do they have a kind of ‘70s kitsch thing about them, which adds a bit of nostalgic fun, but they are incredibly easy to grow and seem to be virtually immune to neglect. And I should know! I don’t remember to water mine as often as I should, but they still seem to sprout their ‘babies’ at the ends of their long tendrils. They look great perched on a shelf at home or at work, and if you need a new one (for aforementioned students or others in need of a mood lift) you can just snip off one of the ‘babies’ and stick it in some compost in a pot, water it when you remember and hey presto! a new spider plant grows.

Other plants that are suitable for indoor growing, and which would suit an office environment too, are aloe, cacti, succulents, ivy, rubber plants and peace lilies. These are generally fairly low maintenance and should support conditions produced by air conditioning and possible neglect during times when the office might be empty.

I’ve got a spider plant positioned on top of my in-tray on my desk at work now, so I’ll have to let you know if I notice marked improvements in my productivity and general cheeriness!

Sonia Mermagen
Sonia has recently returned to Thompson & Morgan in the role of marketing copy writer. She is a self-proclaimed ‘reluctant’ gardener and is generally amazed if anything flourishes in her garden. Sonia is a big fan of plants marked ‘easy to grow’, ‘drought tolerant’ and ‘no pruning necessary’. In her own garden, Sonia has a ‘hands off’ approach and believes that this encourages bees, butterflies and other wildlife. (That’s her excuse anyway!)

Watch out plants – No hiding place!

Christmas? Well thank goodness that’s over! So used to being outdoors am I (virtuous, smug) that being confined to quarters made me as sleepy as a dormouse. I reckon I was spending 14 hours a day either in or on the bed! Buoyed up by the prospect of increased day length (1 minute per day, yippee!) I have taken to mooching around the garden, peering at the earth for signs of life. And I haven’t been disappointed: crocus, snowdrops, narcissi; pulmonaria, cyclamen, Lords and Ladies; hellebores, scuttelaria integrifolia (Blue Helmet, cross between mint and salvia – look it up, it’s a thug but great for shade), sedum; and at eye level Clematis Freckles, little darling it is!

At this time of year there is no hiding place for hangers on I can tell you! I have been stalking around, beady eye looking out for howlers and as a result have a lovely list of removals in the offing: A variegated Philadelphus in a patio container never flowers well due to lack of bright sunlight and contributes nothing of interest to the winter displays. Where to put it in the borders though? It’s like the Domino effect here, what can I move on to make room for it? David reckons if he stands still too long he won’t be safe either! I can’t wait to get that clumsy spotted laurel out after sneering at it for years (ruthless terminator!) and replace it with Cornus Kousa Robert’s Selecte. The tree peony will be looking for a good home too. It doesn’t warrant its position as focal point of the fernery. Poor thing has only produced 3 flowers in its 5 year existence due to low light levels. I am rubbing my hands together in glee at the boundless planting possibilities: Maybe the T&M Blechnum Brasiliensis Volcano?

volcano

No more excuses! The miscanthus has to be lifted and divided in spring before it swallows up neighbouring thalictrum and euphatorium. Oh the effort, the mess, the clearance! Ah, but once it’s done think of the extra space. (Do you have two little green men on your shoulders arguing away behind your back? Only wish they could do the digging as well.) And bidens Hannay’s Lemon Drop is creeping through the salvia uliginosa and has to be stopped before it takes over. Trouble is, that whole section of bed will have to come up to separate them all. Perleeease! I’m exhausted already!

Some things seem to be a bridge too far though, like resolving to grow culinary herbs outside the back door. Trouble is, they start off vigorously enough in Spring, but by summer the passiflora canopy has shaded them out, and or the cats have been grazing on them. Maybe hanging baskets?

It’ll be a month or so before I can really get stuck in, but I shall console myself during the frosts by scouring the new Spring T&M catalogue. Plenty of sumptuous ideas for container planting, as well as delicious new tomato and veg varieties. A Must-Have addition to the allotment will be strawberry Just Add Cream, introduced to us at last Summer’s T&M Triallist’s Open Day. But more about the forthcoming year’s trials in my next blog.

In the meantime, here are some of my personal favourites from our garden throughout 2016:

jan to mar

apr to jun

jul to sep

oct to dec

Cleaning up garden tools for the winter

Cleaning Garden tools for winter

    garden tools needing a vlean

    A good garden tool isn’t just for Christmas ….

    A cliché, but true. Proper tool maintainance, from the humble trowel to the mighty cultivator, will extend their useful life considerably. Regular cleaning, oiling, sharpening and generally looking after them will also make your life a lot easier. Some tools may only need an annual service whilst others will benefit from being cleaned after each use.

    I have to admit that I’m no angel all the time when it comes to this, and I’m sure there have been times when we’ve all left a pair of secateurs outside or put dirty spades and forks away in the shed. When was the last time you sharpened your shears properly and gave your Dutch hoe some TLC?

    As it’s now that time of year when a lot of the garden has been put to bed and tools are away for the winter. The lawn mower has gone into hibernation in the shed or garage like a bear settling down for the winter and even the hedge cutter can find a roost and be hung up until it’s needed again.
    But before all that happens, I need to be kind to my tools so that I can use them when I need to come spring!

    First of all, anything with a blade I will give a good clean. I’ll use a strong detergent, water as hot as I can bear a scrubbing brush and one of those sponges with a scourer on one side. It’s so easy to let a build up of rubbish, gunk, sap etc accumulate, especially on secateurs and loppers; scrape off the worst of it using another blade (I use the knife on my trusty Multitool) and then give them a good scrub. Once they’re all clean and dried, sharpen them using a file or whetstone if you have one, they’re cheap to buy anyway and well worth getting one. You’ll get a much keener edge on the blade, which will make pruning later on much easier and you’ll also get a cleaner cut, which will reduce the chances of disease getting in! One I’ve sharpened the blade, checked it and put a plaster on my thumb where I found out it was VERY sharp, I put a drop of oil on the hinge and any other parts that move and I also then spray the blades with WD40.

    digging spade, raking leaves, trowel and fork

    Next on my list are the hand tools; the trowels, spades, rakes and hoes etc. These are usually the ones that take the hardest beating each year, and so also end up looking the worst of all.
    A good scrape of the worst of the built up dirt followed by a wire brush to really give them a thorough clean and then the detergent and scourer again to finish them off. Once the metal parts have all dried I wipe them over with an oily rag or again a light spray with WD40

    I have heard a tip from a friend who has a bucket of sharp sand in his shed, which has been mixed with motor oil, when he comes in with used tools, he plunges them in and out of the bucket, the sand helps to clean the tools and the oil preserves against rust. I haven’t tried this I admit, it sounds like a good idea, but knowing me, I’d stub my toe on the bucket or kick it over!

    Although much rarer these days, some of my tools have wooden handles, these handle can dry out and potentially split, or become weak and break under strain. A clean, light sanding and then a liberal dose of teak oil keeps the wood in good condition and also helps to keep it more flexible too.

    I know a lot of people recommend and use linseed oil on their gardening tools, to preserve blades, prevent rust and on wooden handles etc. I am perhaps overly cautious though and don’t really want to have anything that could potentially burst into flames if I forget to do something like clear up properly. I’ll stick with WD40 and teak oil, thank you very much!

    I’m not a mechanic by any means but I do carry out a few simpler tasks on any garden machinery I own. For major things I always use a professional as it’s just not worth doing a “bodge” job on any piece of machinery that could go wrong and be expensive to replace!

    Cleaning is probably the most important part, especially on your lawn mower, the build up inside the deck of old grass, mud, leaves and goodness knows what else can lead to rust holes on a metal deck, or an inefficient grass collection, the blades catching in internal debris can be harmful too.

    cleaning lawn mower

    If you have a petrol mower, tip it back in the direction recommended by the manufacturer, if you don’t then trust me, the oil can go everywhere, and this can REALLY mess things up later on. I usually use an old paint scraper to get rid of the worst, then it’s back to brushes and hot soapy water to give it a thorough scrub. Whilst you’re waiting for it to dry off, take the blade off if you can (wearing gloves of course) and test the cutting edges. Sharpen using a file, balance it and put it back. If in doubt, take it somewhere that can sharpen mower blades and balance them properly. If a rotary mower blade isn’t balanced then the vibrations it will cause when in use will seriously harm the machine, not to mention it being absolutely awful to use too!

    Check the oil regularly of course, and clean out air filters, or replace them, this goes for all petrol machinery throughout the year. It’s a similar routine for tillers and any other large, driven machinery. As a matter of course, before I start any machine, I always check the spark plug lead is intact and that it’s firmly seated onto the plug itself, this is from past experience and prevents some head scratching as to why the machine won’t start!

    The internal workings of some of my electrical equipment I honestly leave well alone. I’m nowhere near qualified to take my hedge trimmer apart, so I don’t. I really good clean and brush down, Good old WD40 on all the moving parts and check all the wires and plugs for damage is about all I can do.
    Obviously make sure your storage area is clean and dry too, no point cleaning everything up & putting it away only to find the more rust has accumulated over the winter!

    These are definitely “chores” every year, but I’ve found that it’s well worth it, keep your favourite tools clean and tidy and you’ll have as much pride in them as you will your garden!

    Obviously more hints and tips are more than welcome from everyone!

    Graham Ward
    I’ve been gardening for as long as I can remember, my first earliest memory being planting seeds in my Grandfather’s prestige flower bed and having a prize lettuce growing there, which he proudly left to show everyone.

    Since then, gaining knowledge and experience from both my Grandfather and my Father, I’ve continued to garden, both as a hobby and later on as a professional gardener and landscaper for 12 years. I love all aspects of it, from the design and build, to the planting out of summer borders with plants you’ve either grown from seed or raised from plugs. Unusual varieties always catch my eye and I’m keen to try growing them, even if sometimes it means learning from my mistakes.

Looking Forward to 2017

Petunia 'Night Sky and Bidens 'Firelight' mixed
Time moves on so quickly and 2017 will be the 5th year that I have been trialling plants for Thompson & Morgan in my multi-award winning seaside garden! Back in 2013, the first items I received were a Cox’s orange Pippin Apple Tree and a Plum Gage, Reine Claude. Back then we were sent whatever was chosen by the company and I feared that I would not be able to use then in my exposed coastal garden. Now, they are both established and have started to produce small amounts of fruit, always difficult here on the coast, with the wind blowing across the garden!

Another arrival that first Spring was a delicate rose ‘garden party’, which still flowers profusely in the front and back garden each Summer. Also received in the first year were Peruvian Tree Lily, Alstroemeria ‘Everest Collection’. These have been quite stunning year on year and much remarked on by our many garden visitors. They were all planted in a large container and are still doing really well. Last Summer, I was very lucky indeed to have trialled 2 brand new 2017 plants, featured in the Spring catalogue. The stunning new fuchsia ‘Icing Sugar’ on the front cover and the equally beautiful Bidens ‘Firelight’ on page 11. I’d suggested 2 names for the plants, but I’m afraid they weren’t the final ones chosen! However, my quote on the Fuchsia was used in publicity last November.

Fuchsia 'Icing Sugar' Alstroemeria 'Everest Collection', Bidens 'Firelight'

“Geoff Stonebanks, gardening writer, blogger and creator/owner of The Driftwood Garden near Lewes in Sussex, trialled ‘Icing Sugar’ for T&M last year and says: “The beautiful new fuchsia, ‘Icing Sugar’, certainly lives up to its name; a delicate and frosted gem.” Geoff added: “As an avid fuchsia lover, this delicate and frosted ‘Icing Sugar’, on show in my garden for the first time this summer, is utterly stunning.”

Both of these plants are ones I would heartily recommend for anyone’s garden this Summer.

So, what can I and my garden visitors look forward to seeing in 2017 from Thompson & Morgan? We’re set to open 14 times this summer and already have several coach trips booked into the garden as well, as a result of me and the garden being seen on BBC Gardeners’ World last Autumn. Here’s what we will be receiving in the next few months. Strawberry ‘Just Add Cream™’. Petunia Amore ‘Queen of Hearts’, Buddleja davidii ‘Wisteria Lane’, Geranium ‘Black Rose’, Osteospermum ‘Falling Stars’. Gazania ‘Shepherd’s Delight’, Calendula ‘Winter Wonders Collection’. Petunia ‘Mini Rosebud Romantic Peachy’, Sweet Pea ‘Earl Grey’ and finally Petunia ‘Night Sky’ again, as it was such a success in 2016.

Petunia 'Night Sky', Strawberry 'Just Add Cream', Sweet Pea 'Earl Grey'

The information both on-line and in the Spring catalogue certainly made me want to see these on show in the garden. Who could resist the chance to smell the intense perfume that evokes childhood memories of your first taste of a strawberry or appreciate the fashionable new sweet pea, offering stunning colour on both sides of the graduated or ‘flaked’ petals. I’m really looking forward to seeing how they all grow this Summer and will be posting update son my garden web site throughout the season. Check them out at wwww.driftwoodbysea.co.uk

Geoff Stonebanks
Geoff Stonebanks was very lucky to be able to retire early from 30 years in Royal Mail back in 2004. He had 3 different careers with them first as a caterer, then manager of a financial analysis team and finally as an Employee Relations Manager and Personnel Manager. He sold up and moved with his partner to Bishopstone, near Seaford in East Sussex in 2004 and now spends all his time gardening and fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support. Using his multi award-winning garden, recently featured on Gardeners’ World on TV and finalist in Gardeners’ World Magazine Garden of the Year 2016, he’s raised £76000 for various charities in 7 years, £40000 of that for Macmillan. In his spare time, he is also Assistant County Organiser for the National Gardens Scheme and their Publicity Officer for East & Mid Sussex.

Katy’s Autumn Garden Update

A quick update from the garden after the growing season.

So now the colder months begin and the long, darker nights draw in I am reflecting back on the last growing year at certain successes and trials in the garden and allotment sites. One of the big successes has been the runner beans. I planted 3 different Thompson & Morgan varieties – all with different coloured flowers. I planted these down at the allotment mixed up so that when they grew it created not only tasty beans but also a lovely mix of different coloured blooms on the plants too, winding up the canes. These were perfect simply chopped up and boiled for evening meals in pastas or grated for seasonal, fresh salads. I simply kept picking them every few days and they kept on growing right into end September/October which was fantastic. A real crowd pleaser both for ease of growing and for taste value too.


runner beans and raspberries

Another massive success was the raspberry canes. Now I know I mention these every time but it is simply because I have been so impressed by them each year in the summer. In particular the ‘Glen Moy’ variety has flourished. Fruit started appearing nice and early in the growing season and from then on gave a regular and heavy crop each week till late. I loved picking these fresh, juicy raspberries as I wandered past to feed the chickens I keep and try to save the raspberries to go with my breakfast porridge. However, most of them did not make it back into the house for cooking desserts or breakfasts as they were consumed earlier on the garden walk.

Jerusalem artichokes have been a new discovery for me this year – trying to grow and cook with them. They were easy to grow and I have experimented with cooking them in different ways. They are a faff to prepare and peel but are a nice addition to a potato gratin with tasty layers topped with cheese and cream – perfect in autumn!


artichoke and spring onions

The spring onion (White Lisbon variety) crop I have had this year has been immense! Simply so easy to plant and grow with little intervention apart from regular watering. I have had a formidable crop and have used them mercilessly snipped into fresh salads, mixed into potato salads and as a quirky addition to scrambled eggs on a Sunday (with wild garlic).

Overall, I cannot wait to get cracking with the next growing season and focus on one particular element next year. I haven’t decided which project yet but possibly thinking salads or unusual varieties of vegetable.

Katy Runacres
Katy is a smallholder, cook and writer. She keeps Chickens, Bantams, Meat Rabbits and has a resident cat called Podge. She takes an interest in all aspects of homesteading and has written pieces for a number of magazines including Backwoods Home, Bushcraft, Country Smallholding, Home Farmer and Smallholder. Katy is a member of the Essex and Suffolk Poultry Club and has a Diploma in Countryside Management.

How to make an evergreen Christmas garland

garland1Creating a beautiful Christmas garland for a staircase depends more on having access to a plentiful supply of foliage, than it does upon creative abilities. Before you contemplate making your own garland, have a walk around the garden and note what greenery is available. You will need enough evergreens to generously cover at least double the length of the space to be covered.

You will need to cut pieces of conifer about 30 – 40cm long, depending on the size and scale of your project. The easiest way to ensure that you have enough branches to cut, is to build it into your annual pruning routine, so that an area is left unpruned earlier in the year, ready for this December cutting.

The conifer will form the base layer of your garland, and you can add as many other layers as you like, to this. I usually add Holly and two or three different ivys, using variegated foliage as well, to lend extra colour and interest. What else you include in your garland is a matter of personal choice, and your trip around the garden will give you lots of ideas about other evergreens you would like to use. Over the years I have tried using euonymous, laurel, aucuba, Clematis armandii and Viburnum Tinus, amongst others. Although larger leaves look great initially, they do not last like the conifer and Holly, and may need renewing at some point. The best thing to do is just to experiment and find what works for you.

Begin your garland by cutting and fixing a long piece of wire firmly in place, down your staircase, which will form the backbone of the whole structure. As we have a spindled staircase, I can secure the main wire several times with smaller wire ties, too.

Work can now begin, building up the layers of the garland, ensuring that use of greenery is generous. The branches of conifer can be fixed to the main wire horizontally if it is in short supply, but it looks much better if positioned vertically, as this makes for a fuller, more luxurious effect. I use fine horticultural wire to fix the foliage in position, twisting the wire around the stems for added stability.

Once the base layer of conifer clippings is complete, you can start the next layer, and this, like everything else, is a matter of personal preference. I use Holly for the second layer, and position the stems horizontally on top of the conifer, close to the main wire. The Holly will need to be wired into place too. A little tip is to cut long pieces of wire to make the initial fixings of the conifer clippings, and these can be used again for later layers of greenery, saving time, and making the whole process much easier.

I like to add a third layer of Ivy (which can disguise a multitude of sins!), which can be used horizontally, vertically, or a mix of both.

Keep adding greenery until your garland is lush and dense, and keep standing back to look at the overall effect, so that you can fill bare patches. You can then add the finishing touches – I usually add a string of small white lights, but over the years have tried all sorts of things, including tinsel, bows, ribbons and silken rope.

A home made garland is a traditional way of bringing greenery into the house to enjoy, and will give your home a truly festive feel at virtually no cost.

Have a very happy, home-made Christmas!

I am the willing servant of my garden and also admit to a severe plant addiction. I love them all, but especially sub tropicals, roses, salvias, dahlias and auriculas. I enjoy propagation (because it makes even more plants!) and I hate weeding. My garden was a field when we first met, all those years ago, and its development has been a long, slow, labour of love. It is still evolving and changing all the time. I have opened for the NGS in the recent past, and I have an RHS Qualification, but, the experience I value has mainly been gained with my hands deep in the soil.

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